Birmingham seeks best global tech startups

Sponsored by NatWest and Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co, the competition enables winning tech entrepreneurs to spend a fortnight abroad in the sister incubation centre, scaling up internationally, meeting with expert advisers and scoping out ways to expand their businesses on a global scale.

The launch of the contest follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Ryerson University and Innovation Birmingham earlier this year, providing global opportunities to tech start-up communities.

“The DMZ offers start-ups tools and an environment for success, including an unparalleled network to grow both in Canada and abroad,” said Sheldon Levy, President of Ryerson University. “We are very excited to launch this contest with Innovation Birmingham, giving young innovators an opportunity to make valuable connections worldwide and to expand their business on a global scale.”

Applicants from Ontario and Greater Birmingham will be assessed on innovative use of technology, market validation, and potential for rapid growth and international expansion.

“When visiting Toronto’s DMZ, it was evident just how similar the ethos, community and outputs were to the Innovation Birmingham Campus. The Next Big Idea Contest will present invaluable opportunities for early stage tech businesses with high growth potential,” said Dr David Hardman MBE, CEO of Innovation Birmingham “With the help and guidance of the teams of advisers and the peer networks in Toronto and Birmingham, the winning entrepreneurs will be able to expand on a global scale. The launch of this Contest is the first step in what we believe will be a very productive collaboration, benefitting early stage tech businesses.”

Ontario and Birmingham have both achieved major gains in economic output, educational achievements, and major foreign investment projects. Both offer exciting business opportunities within vibrant, diverse communities.

Birmingham is home to over 34,000 companies, including almost 700 international firms that contribute to it being the fastest growing city in the UK. With the highest economic output in the country, entrepreneurs in the West Midlands region benefit from a wide range of resources such as investment opportunities, talent, and leading global businesses to help launch a successful start-up.

Ontario is the engine of Canada’s IT industry. It has the second largest IT industry in North America after California, with 19,000 companies and 250,000 IT workers. Home to two of the largest start-up ecosystems in the world, Toronto and Waterloo, Ontario supports a thriving entrepreneurial environment. Ontario is also a research and development leader, with seven of the ten largest tech companies in the world conducting R&D in the province.

Overlooking the heart of downtown Toronto, the DMZ is a hub of innovation and collaboration that connects start-ups with customers, advisers, influencers and each other, as part of a community that supports and fosters disruptive technologies.

“We are delighted to be sponsoring the Next Big Idea Contest, which is a fantastic opportunity for tech start-ups in Greater Birmingham to learn more about global opportunities,” said Andy Lee, NatWest’s Regional Enterprise Manager for the Midlands and East of England. “We commissioned a report last year on the opportunities and barriers for UK SMEs around exporting which found that, while more than 80 per cent of them recognised its importance to the economy, only a quarter saw it as a key part of their future. We work hard to help our customers grow through selling to new markets and we welcome the opportunity to be a part of a contest which shares our aims.”

Michael Chan, Ontario Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade said: “The Next Big Idea Contest is an opportunity for innovative Ontario and Greater Birmingham digital media and IT start-ups to scale-up internationally. This initiative leverages the connections between Ontario and the UK to help pioneering companies transform their ideas into reality. Through collaboration, mentoring, and networking with sector leaders, investors and incubators, The Next Big Idea will be a launch pad for start-ups to get a foothold in the global innovation ecosystem.”

The contest is open to tech start-ups based in Ontario and Greater Birmingham. For contest eligibility and to apply, visit